Tips on Starting a New HR Department From Scratch
Are you new to Human Resources? Every one of us started somewhere. Differences in employment exist and the appropriate path depends on whether you’re starting an HR department from scratch or joining an existing department as an HR employee of one. Differences exist, too, when you join a department that has additional HR staff members or if you’re the only HR employee on staff. Each situation brings its special challenges.
Each new HR professional will need to evaluate their coworkers’ and organization’s needs and identify the most efficient way to deploy their knowledge and experience to serve their organization’s goals. This is the approach you would take if you are starting an HR department from scratch whether you are new to the profession or experienced. The learning curve for the latter will be less steep but still challenging.
We had previously featured tips about how a beginning HR professional could best lay the foundation for your career in the HR profession. These tips also serve as reminders for seasoned professionals at any point in your career.
Starting an HR Department from Scratch
Here is the path you need to follow to succeed in your quest to build a new HR department. On the day you start your new job, meet with your manager to receive her guidance on the priorities of the organization for their new department.
She will likely also have her own expectations of your position.
During the interview process, you were informed about why the organization had decided that they need an HR department. But, this is the day to clarify that you share a picture of the expectations and outcomes your efforts need to produce with your boss.
If you’re lucky, your new organization may have a written job specification or job description to guide your steps. But, in organizations that have no HR department, this onboarding has generally been left to individual managers, payroll, and accounting. So, you will have to create your own onboarding process. (I recommend a 60-120 day plan that your boss helps you create.)
As a new HR employee, it is necessary for you to quickly learn about and understand any processes and systems in place in the company that affect HR. The first systems to understand are how employees are paid and access benefits. Employees will soon come to you with their questions.
After a few days of focusing on your onboarding and any immediate goals of your manager, you will want to sit down with the appropriate accounting staff to learn about how employees are paid. You will also need to learn about benefits, for yourself, and so that you can help employees.
You will, within several months, or depending on the time of year, have to ask the finance department to include you in any discussion about the selection of benefits and compensation. This has traditionally been a shared role combining personnel needs with financial expertise.
This is an easier step if your HR position reports to the Finance and Accounting executive – where many HR jobs do report to start. She will be dedicated to your success for the department’s sake. But, the step must occur nonetheless, if you report elsewhere.
Learn the Priorities and Concerns of Other Departments
Meet with the other executive staff members to understand organizational priorities of the whole senior team. This is easier for some organizations than others. While you have marching orders from your immediate manager, you need to know the priorities and concerns of the other departments. HR is onboard to serve them all.
If you have transferred to this HR position from somewhere else in the same organization, you will already know these people. If you’re new, even if experienced, this is a significant step in understanding the organization’s needs and priorities.
Meet with a cross-section of the managers and employees whom the executives recommended you interview. These employees can teach you a lot – quickly- about the organization you’ve joined. Never assume that the executives’ viewpoints are on target. They view the world through a different lens than regular employees.
Meanwhile, you will find that other employees have found you. They want to spend time with you out of curiosity or with questions. When a new HR department forms, pent-up demand and the need for HR can overwhelm the new HR employee.
Employees are looking for someone whom they can talk to, confide in, and tell all of the organization's secrets, stories, and problems. Listen with care and you will learn about your new organization’s problems and needs. Use the time to get to know your new coworkers and their views to deepen your knowledge and ability to contribute.
Put Together an HR Plan and Build Alliances
Put together an HR plan. Share your HR plan with your boss to make sure this individual supports the goals and plans you are developing. She needs to agree with and support the plan for you to have any hope of succeeding. Good alliance building and succeeding in positive office politics makes the involvement of your boss in each step of your plans and implementation prudent.
Don’t be unrealistic in the goals you pursue in your first 90-120 days in your new HR department. Start early to help your manager understand when you believe you can achieve a particular step. Tradeoffs exist no matter the order of your priorities. You can’t do everything at once – though it may feel as if that is the expectation.
This is why I am such a stickler for agreements, priorities, and gathering information. It is also better to have several early achievements than to start a number of initiatives and complete none. You still have a job to do. You will spend time accomplishing the organization’s first goals and deliverables. You will see employees. You will pursue your individual onboarding plan. You will interact with the senior leaders and managers who will provide input to the goals and needs of the HR department.
This roadmap should help you get started to form the basis of an HR department from scratch. You can use it to chart your course as you spend your first 90-120 days in your organization. Be kind to yourself and treat yourself gently and uncritically. It takes time and commitment to build an HR department from the ground up. You will succeed.